Racing Roundtable: Breeders' Cup contenders and favorites to fade
Which European looks more formidable in the Breeders’ Cup Mile — Modern Games or Kinross?
James Scully: Modern Games due to his affinity for North American racing. Easily best in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar, the three-year-old shipped to Woodbine to record an outstanding 5 1/4-length score in the Woodbine Mile (G1) in mid-September. He's exiting a good second in last Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot, and Modern Games appears to be rounding into top form for Charlie Appleby.
Vance Hanson: Although Modern Games would be the logical choice, given his prior experience in North America, Kinross is looking an increasingly stronger candidate in my estimation. His form has held well through a busy fall campaign, he should appreciate the weight break he will receive in the Breeders’ Cup, and he appears less ground dependent than Modern Games, a factor that could come into play in early November. His recent record also resembles that of 2021 Mile winner Space Blues, a seven-furlong specialist at home whose chances of getting a mile were much more favorable over a less-testing, flat surface in the U.S.
Keeler Johnson: Sprinting six furlongs in the British Champions Sprint S. (G1) probably took a little less out of Kinross than racing one mile in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) did for Modern Games, and that could be significant with a short three-week turnaround between British Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup. But Kinross is something of a soft-ground specialist who enjoyed the damp footing at Ascot, whereas Modern Games relishes firm turf and is 2-for-2 over such going in North America. Assuming the ground comes up firm at Keeneland (and granted there aren’t any guarantees there), then Modern Games—with his proven affinity for North American racing—figures to hold an edge over Kinross.
With the Grand National (G1) in the rear-view mirror, who are you leaning to choosing as 2022 champion jumper?
JS: The jump scene is heating up at this time of year, but I will need more time to digest results before commenting.
VH: I’ve never been reluctant in the past to back a “one-hit wonder” from overseas who happened to humble the leading domestic contenders for this award in the Grand National, and I think Hewick ably demonstrated such a superiority last weekend. I would have been more forgiving of long-time division leader Snap Decision’s effort at Far Hills if not for his nine-length loss in the Lonesome Glory H. (G1), but to me he ran himself out of contention for the honors with his two performances over the past month. Grand National runner-up Noah and the Ark was the best U.S.-based hurdler going at the end of the season, but Hewick to me is more deserving of the championship.
KJ: Snap Decision may have faltered when finishing sixth in the Grand National, but that shouldn’t dampen memories of the strong season he enjoyed. Snap Decision trounced the Iroquois Hurdle S. (G1) by 7 1/4 lengths, smashed the Jonathan Sheppard H. (G1) by 13 1/4 lengths while carrying top weight of 164 pounds (24 pounds more than the runner-up), and for good measure recorded second-place finishes in the Lonesome Glory H. (G1) and Temple Gwathmey Hurdle H. (G2). Snap Decision danced practically every dance and competed with aplomb, so the Jack Fisher trainee is still the frontrunner for championship honors.
Making almost all of the running under top weight of 164 pounds, Snap Decision proved the easiest of winners on Wednesday in Saratoga’s premier jump event, the $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard H. (G1).— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) August 17, 2022
Vance Hanson has your recap ⤵️ https://t.co/21qu5Tw6tA pic.twitter.com/MsfX6EXFxV
Is there any likely Breeders’ Cup favorite you’re anxious to fade at this point?
JS: Last year’s Turf Sprint winner Golden Pal tuned up with a frontrunning score in the Oct. 8 Woodford (G3), easily making a clear lead from the starting gate, and the four-year-old colt is extremely formidable when he has everything his own way. But he’s proven vulnerable when unable to dictate tempo unopposed, and there appears to be serious speed lining up for the Turf Sprint.
VH: There’s still a long way to go between now and Breeders’ Cup week, and I wouldn’t say I’m firmly against any likely favorite at this point. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ultimately stood against Jackie’s Warrior in the Sprint (G1). Post-time favorites in the Sprint have come through only eight times in the past 38 runnings, and a number of very short-priced ones have fallen well short for various reasons, including Jackie’s Warrior last year. Through no fault of his own necessarily, Jackie’s Warrior was not overly battle-tested earlier this season when racking up four straight wins, but was found wanting late going a bit longer in the Forego (G1) last time. Whether that was an anomaly or a sign of declining form is to be determined, but another short price on him in the Sprint is unlikely to be an enticing proposition in my eyes.
KJ: Chocolate Gelato is definitely capable of winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), but she’s not necessarily the most unbeatable favorite of the week. Chocolate Gelato ran strongly sprinting in her maiden victory and followed up with a game triumph in the one-mile Frizette S. (G1), but the 84 Brisnet Speed rating she posted in the Frizette looks a little light. In general, this year’s top two-year-old fillies haven’t been running especially fast, and it’s easier for longshots to strike when favorites lack a significant edge in speed figures. Three of the last nine Juvenile Fillies winners started at 32-1 or higher, so it’s not unheard of for this race to produce shocking outcomes. I’ll be tempted to think outside the box when handicapping the Juvenile Fillies, possibly looking for a filly beaten in her final prep run while facing good company.